Editorial Roundup: Kansas

Kansas City Star. September XX, 2021.

Editorial: Kansas leader fans unfounded fear that Afghan refugees are diseased terrorists

During and after the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, Republicans roundly blamed President Joe Biden for leaving our Afghan allies vulnerable. This was a valid, though highly hypocritical, criticism, since the peace deal negotiated by the Trump administration would have walked away from these allies even sooner.

After the Trump administration betrayed and abandoned our Kurdish allies in Syria two years ago, many were slaughtered and none were evacuated by the United States. ISIS was strengthened, and Trump defended the decision as one he had to make to get us out of forever fighting in the Middle East. The only difference, in other words, is that there was no effort, before, during or after our withdrawal, to protect those we were leaving behind.

In leaving our Afghan allies unprotected, Kansas U.S. Rep. Jake LaTurner said that we had “let down our allies and significantly damaged our presence on the world stage.”

But if you agree, as most Americans do, that we could not stay forever, and you also believe, as LaTurner said, that our allies deserve better, then what exactly is our responsibility to them?

Ask that natural follow-up question and suddenly those wonderful Afghan allies whose terrible treatment you were just bemoaning are recast as diseased potential terrorists. And no, that doesn’t add up.

On Thursday, after reports that about 500 Afghan evacuees will be resettled in Kansas, Ty Masterson, the Kansas Senate president, sounded this warning: “It could be dangerous to have them in our state.”

The evacuees, he said, could come with COVID-19 infections. (Every evacuee who comes into the United States is set to go through health screening. Anyone 12 and older will get the COVID-19 vaccination as a term of their status here. And not only are they are all being vaccinated, but that’s an odd objection for someone who doesn’t think Kansans should have to protect themselves and others by getting the shots.)

Masterson said that while he’s “all for taking care of those in trouble,” he stripped that sentiment of any meaning by warning that some refugees may be terrorists. Like all refugees, those from Afghanistan will arrive after being fully vetted. The Biden administration has said each evacuee will go through a Department of Homeland Security-coordinated process of security vetting before being admitted to the country.

About 1,200 Afghans are expected to settle in Missouri.

Nothing hospitable can come from calling evacuees “dangerous.” It sows seeds of discrimination.

The United States promised “safety to our allies in Afghanistan, the men and women who risked their lives serving alongside our armed forces, and we must stick to our word,” LaTurner, a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement Thursday. Absolutely, he is right about that.

What is wrong is spreading unfounded fear that those we promised to help are diseased terrorists.

“That is careless talk and it creates animosity,” said Peter Makori, manager of refugee resettlement at Della Lamb Community Services, one the agencies ready to help resettle Afghan arrivals in the Kansas City area.

“We are preparing to embrace these people,” Makori said, and our political leaders “must be careful not to intoxicate the minds of the people to whom these refugees are fleeing trying to escape persecution. These are people seeking peace.

“I have been in their situation, fleeing persecution, and I know how much love and respect refugees have for the country that embraces them, that saves their life. They don’t come to harm, they come with indebtedness.”

If we owe them a debt of gratitude, and we do, then we should keep that in mind.

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Topeka Capital-Journal. September 18, 2021.

Editorial: Fate of the Docking building has lingered too long. It’s time for Kansas lawmakers to make a decision.

The Docking State Office Building was designed with someone like Don Draper in mind.

Just take a look at the photo gallery The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Evert Nelson made and you’ll get a sense of what we’re talking about. Its design is straight out of “Mad Men.” The ventilation system was even conceived with smokers in mind.

But it’s current state is more like Draper’s real identity Dick Whitman — a sad state. The 14-story midcentury structure in the Capitol Complex once housed many of the state’s agencies. Today it sits mostly vacant. It hasn’t had a major renovation since its construction in 1957.

It’s time to fix that.

Former Gov. Sam Brownback tried to demolish the building in 2016. When the Legislature stalled that plan, Brownback then made deals for multi-decade contracts for state workers to move their offices across Topeka — essentially turning the Docking building into a 14-story quagmire. But in all honesty, the space was a quandary long before that.

Legislators have debated what to do about the building — which honors Gov. Robert Docking — for more than a decade.

“Everyone has ideas, and some of them are great ideas and some of them are ideas that have really just slowed this process down,” said Sen. J. R. Claeys, R-Salina. “But at the end of the day, we’re at that kind of critical moment where we can make a good decision.”

The Kelly administration has put together plans to move forward into the modern needs of Kansas.

The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Andrew Bahl reported that lawmakers are weighing their options on the building’s long-awaited renovation, with a final decision expected later this year. Current proposals call for a renovation of the entire building (the top two floors aren’t ADA compliant) or a separate plan to reduce its size to three floors, with three new floors added on top of the structure.

In all honesty, we don’t know what the best option is. Both sound realistic to us, so we’ll yield to the experts. Both plans appear to address various needs facing the state.

So from where we stand, let’s do something to make progress. The building has stood tall and mostly empty for far too long.

We implore lawmakers to thoughtfully consider the plans proposed by the Kelly administration and put one into action. It just makes sense.

We’ll leave you with some parting advice from Draper himself: “Make it simple, but significant.”

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Lawrence Journal-World. September 18. 2021.

Editorial: Is it time to rethink the city’s public art program?

It is not every community that you can go to a city commission meeting and have an art criticism class break out.

But as you’ve surely surmised, Lawrence is not any community. Thus, city commissioners recently found themselves discussing a $340,000 proposal to build a piece of public art near the city’s new police headquarters in northwest Lawrence. In a majority of the communities in Kansas, the discussion probably would have been about whether $340,000 should be spent on a piece of public art for a somewhat little-visited area of town.

That wasn’t the conversation at all in Lawrence, though. Instead, commissioners debated whether the art piece was sending an unintentional message of support for police surveillance. The gazebo-like piece included some eye-shaped features, and there was debate about the message those eyes sent. As far as art discussions by politicians go, this one was pretty good. Almost certainly better than such a conversation would have been at the White House. The president would have just suggested a pair of aviator shades for the eyes and called it good.

If you think this is heading toward an argument to abandon the city’s public art program — which basically sets aside money for public art when a public building is constructed — you should check your map again. Yes, Dorothy, you are still in Kansas, but more importantly, you are in Lawrence. The public art program isn’t going anywhere in Lawrence.

It has been long established that Lawrence loves art. But, does it love it smartly?

Maybe the community can have a conversation about whether we’re spending this public art money in the best ways for art. While the community can easily say it loves art, it doesn’t always easily show. It is not like hundreds of people come to an unveiling of one of these public art pieces. And, likely many Lawrence artists would attest that it would be very difficult to make a living off the art that they sell in Lawrence galleries alone. Or, even at a more simple level, do you think many of your friends could tell you where Lawrence’s public pieces of art are located? Could they direct a visitor to a few of them?

Surely there is agreement that $340,000 is a significant sum. That money is already gone, as the city has approved the project. But there will be another big building project someday that produces a sizable amount for public art. Before that day arrives, it may be worth having a conversation about new strategies for spending the public art money. A few questions worth asking include:

• Would it be wise to stockpile several years worth of public art funding to commission a much larger piece that could be erected in a much more highly visible part of the city?

• Does the art have to be permanent, or could the money be used to pay for a truly fantastic, national caliber exhibit at one of our many fine museums or the Lawrence Arts Center?

• Can performance art be part of the equation? If so, would it be appropriate to use the money to pay for a concert, or maybe even a multiweek theatrical production that would attract people from throughout the region?

• Would it be appropriate to use the money to create better art infrastructure in Lawrence? Is there a way the city could attract more art buyers to the community, which in turn should make it more likely that artists live and create here?

Maybe the true art lovers feel like some of these questions already have been answered. But a big takeaway from the recent approval of the $340,000 police station piece was how little the public seemed engaged or excited by any of it.

That doesn’t mean that the art won’t be great. But it is disappointing nonetheless; $340,000 is a lot of money. It certainly should be enough to buy a little buzz. As a town that loves art, we seemingly should be excited about creating some.

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